The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, one of the most avid users of telework among federal agencies, says its productivity largely held up when agencies in the Washington area were closed for two days because of Hurricane Sandy.
Despite the government shutdown, the patents and trademarks teams averaged more than 70 percent productivity, patent office Director David Kappos said in an agency blog post. He called the performance “a remarkable achievement, considering many of our examiners couldn’t participate because of widespread power outages.”
“During a natural disaster that closes our offices, USPTO employees must first care for their homes and families. And yet once everything was in order . . . they still showed an extraordinary ability to carry on business as usual in the face of extreme challenges,” Kappos wrote.
Many employees’ duties allow for remote working. Among patent examiners, productivity, as measured by progress in moving cases toward a decision, was 76 percent of normal Monday and 58 percent Tuesday. Among trademark-examining lawyers, it was 81 percent and 79 percent, according to the agency. The agency said its call center was fully operational during the shutdown, with 100 percent participation from the work-at-home employees.
The cost to the government in lost productivity is a recurring issue when federal agencies are closed because of severe weather. The Office of Personnel Management did not estimate a cost, largely because growing numbers of federal employees are able to work remotely and because some employees later catch up on their work.
During a shutdown, employees who had been scheduled to telework are expected to work, as are employees whose work is considered essential, even though others are given time off with pay. OPM estimates that about a third of employees in the region teleworked during the recent closure.
The patent office said that of its roughly 11,600 employees, about 64 percent telework. The most recent government-wide report, in September 2011, found that about 8 percent of all federal employees telework.
Patent office employees telework much more frequently than the government-wide average, with about half working remotely full time.
President Obama signed the Telework Enhancement Act in 2010. OPM has said that some other agencies are struggling with implementing the program because of “management resistance,” saying that leaders are not confident about the efficacy of allowing workers to do their jobs away from the office.